"We can do no great things ... only small things with great
love." Mother Teresa.
A friend and I had gone into Mexico with gifts for an orphanage in the
small town of La Mision, an hours drive south of the border below San Diego.
After wed unloaded the car, one of the staff asked if wed
like to tour the facility. We would. So she took us from building to building, telling us
about the orphanage. It housed 80 to 90 young Mexican children, who either had no mothers
or fathers or had been left by parents who couldnt care for them.
We looked at classrooms, dormitories, play areas, and a chapel. At
lunchtime we watched all the children file into the dining hall, sit down at several long
tables, and, in unison, sing the blessing on their food!
As we toured, my friend asked our escort how the orphanage was
supported. "Well," she replied, "When were running low on something,
we just pray and tell God what we need. Then God tells the people in some church up in the
States. And then they bring it to us, like you just did."
My friend looked so incredulous it was hard not to laugh!
Later, as we drove on into Ensenada and then back to San Diego, we
asked ourselves: Would I have the faith to live like that?
And, when Gods "still, small voice" speaks to us
about helping our "neighbors" in an orphanage, or next door, are we sensitive
enough to listen, hear, and obey?
Immigrants, orphans, and widows were the Bibles largest groups of poor. Today,
UNICEF says that over 160,000,000 children worldwide are orphans.
"Orphans ... throughout the world ... live ... largely unnoticed, untended, and
uncared for" (Melissa Irwin).
What other words does the Bible use for these "neighbors?"
Orphans are often called "the fatherless."
Immigrants are referred to as "aliens,"
"foreigners," "migrants," "travelers," "visitors,"
Jeremiah 14:8 questions why God had become "as a
stranger to us, as one passing through the land who is merely stopping for the
night?" Job 5:15 asserts "I have never turned away a
stranger but have opened my doors to all." 1 Timothy 5:10 asks "has
she been kind to strangers as well as to other Christians?"
"Aliens" and "foreigners" included the
Samaritans, whose ancestors were mixed Israelite/Assyrian (2 Kings 17:24-41). In
Luke 17:17, Jesus asked "Didnt I heal ten men? Does only this
foreigner [a Samaritan] return to give glory to God?"
"Migrants" may or may not be immigrants. My own family
became migrants (not immigrants) for five years when our work took us weekly to new cities
in eight states.
"Visitors" can be guests, foreigners, aliens,
or strangers. Abraham told the men of Heth "Here I am, a visitor in a foreign
land, with no place to bury my wife. Please sell me a piece of ground for this
purpose" (Gen. 23:4).
How does God view immigrants, orphans and widows?
The Lord loves and welcomes them. And he firmly expects his children to
share his caring outlook.
"He loves foreigners and gives them food and clothing"
"The Christian who is pure and without fault, from God the
Fathers point of view, is the one who takes care of orphans and widows" (James
1:27; also 1 Tim. 5:3-5; Acts 6:1-5).
More Scriptures: Ex. 22:21-24; 23:9; Deut. 10:19; 16:12; 24:18; 24:22;
Job 5:15-16; Ps. 68:5; 146:5-9; Prov. 15:25; Jer. 49:11; Hosea 14:3.
The Lord reminded Israel to treat immigrants fairly, since they, too,
had been immigrants in Egypt (Lev. 19:34).
God says most immigrants are good: "For the Lord loves
good men. He protects the immigrants" (Ps. 146:8-9).
US Justice Department data agree. Daniel Griswold of the conservative
Cato Institute says that in ten years of very high illegal immigration, Arizonas
violent-crime rate fell 23%. Property crime was down 28%. The US experienced
"the most rapid drop in crime rates in the nations history." Griswold asks
whether weve "vastly overrated" the danger from honest immigrants who come
at great risk to support their families and try hard to stay out of trouble.
Immigrants face petty nuisances too. About 1900 my grandfather, himself
a Danish immigrant, worked as a "timber cruiser" for a large lumber company,
estimating the board-feet of usable timber in large parts of northern Minnesota,
Wisconsin, and Michigan.
He and his partner once came in to Superior, Wisconsin to outfit for
their next trip. They bought supplies on Saturday. On Sunday morning it hit them: "We
dont leave till tomorrow. What are we going to do today?"
There werent many choices. No radio or television yet. No ball games scheduled.
All stores were closed on Sundays. Finally, desperate, they decided to window-shop.
Many Superior stores were then owned by recently-arrived European
immigrants who lived in the rear or upstairs. Gramp and Hanson stopped at the first
business, studied the window display, checked the door to make sure the store wasnt
open, and moved on.
As they paused before the next window, the key turned in the first
stores lock. The owner leaned out, beckoned, and in heavily accented English said
"Come in, boysss. I vants to show you sometin."
The proprietor offered them a "wonderful buy." The men talked
awhile, thanked him, then left.
They looked at each other. Would that work again? They rattled the next
stores doorknob and walked on a few steps. Sure enough, that owner, too, unlocked
the door and promised them a "great bargain." So did the next proprietor, and
A pattern emerged. The "bargain" was usually a watch or an
overcoat. The men decided to specialize. One would "buy" the coats, the other
the watches. At each store theyd bargain the immigrant owner as low as they could.
Then theyd offer him half that.
If he said "no," theyd say "Sorry, goodby,"
and walk out.
If he said "yes," theyd tell him "Well, it
cant be any good, or you wouldnt take that!" And then theyd
Theyd solved the problem of what to do with their free day.
On Monday, as they left, they remembered some supplies theyd
forgotten on Saturday. They entered one of the same stores, this time intending to buy.
The proprietors wife parted the curtains at the stores
rear, saw who her customers were, waved, and shouted "GOOD-bye! GOOD-bye!"
What are some Biblical glimpses of orphans and widows lives?
"We are orphans our fathers dead, our mothers widowed. We must even pay
for water to drink; our fuel is sold to us at the highest of prices. We bow our necks
beneath the victors feet; unending work is now our lot. We beg for bread. We went
into the wilderness to hunt for food, risking death from enemies. Our skin was black from
famine. Even aged men are treated with contempt. They take away the young men to grind
their grain, and the little children stagger beneath the heavy loads" (Lam. 5:3-6;
"There is no justice for the poor, the widows, and orphans. Yes, it is true
that they even rob the widows and fatherless children (Isa. 10:2).
"The wife of one of the seminary students came to Elisha to tell
him of her husbands death. He had owed some money when he died, and now the creditor
was demanding it back. If she didnt pay, he said he would take her two sons as his
"What shall I do?"
Elisha asked. "How much food do you have in the house?"
"Nothing at all, except a jar of olive oil, she
"Then borrow many pots and pans! he instructed.
Go into your house with your sons ... Then pour olive oil from your jar into the
pots and pans!
"So she did. Her sons brought the pots and pans to her, and she
filled one after another! Soon every container was full to the brim!
"Bring me another jar, she said to her sons.
"There arent any more! they told her. And then
the oil stopped flowing!
"The prophet ... said to her, Go and sell the oil and pay
your debt, and there will be enough money left for you and your sons to live
on!" (2 Kings 4:1-7.)
Weve experienced similar though smaller miracles: extra money
appearing in our wallets; extra packages of frozen chicken in the freezer; unrolling twice
as much cloth as my wife and daughter had bought to make skirts.
Many scholars think Mary was widowed before Jesus ministry began,
leaving Jesus, the oldest son, to support her. So, when Jesus faced death, he provided for
"Standing near the cross were Jesus mother, Mary,
his aunt, the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing
there beside me, his close friend, he said to her, He is your son.
"And to me he said, She is your mother! And from then
on I took her into my home" (John 19:25-27).
More Scriptures: Ruth 2:8-11; Job 24:2-3; 24:9-11; 29:12-16;
How did Israel "love" immigrants, orphans, and widows?
The methods were varied, practical, and creative.
Creativity can take unique forms. In Orlando I worked with a
night-vision engineer who, with two friends, heard about the first proposed
"Cannonball Run," a thoroughly unsanctioned New York-to-Los Angeles auto race
that inspired a Burt Reynolds movie. They were eager to enter. But they had no car.
They got creative. They called New York "driveaway"
companies, which will have your car driven from one city to another. They found a Cadillac
scheduled for Los Angeles. Perfect!
They met the cars owner, and promised him theyd obey all
speed limits and drive limited hours each day. (Then they drove a steady 105 mph around
the clock.) They didnt win, thanks to five police stops (one for forgetting to pay
for gas in New Mexico) and a wrong LA freeway exit. But their creativity did let
them drive the race! (Afterwards they waited several days to deliver the car so the owner
wouldnt become suspicious.)
The Old Testaments programs for immigrants, orphans, and widows
provided creatively (but honestly!) for food, land, and justice.
Immigrants were treated like citizens.
"Do not take advantage of foreigners in your land; do not
wrong them. They must be treated like any other citizen; love them as yourself, for
remember that you too were foreigners in the land of Egypt" (Lev.19:33-34).
"Justice must be given to migrants and orphans, and you must never
accept a widow's garment in pledge of her debt" (Deut. 24:17).
"Distribute the land as an inheritance for yourselves and for the
foreigners who live among you with their families. All children born in the land
whether or not their parents are foreigners are to be considered citizens and have
the same rights your own children have. All these immigrants are to be given land"
(Ezek. 47: 22-23).
Also read: Deut. 1:14-16; 10:17-19.
Part of the harvest was left for the poor.
"If, when reaping your harvest, you forget to bring in a
sheaf from the field, don't go back after it. Leave it for the migrants, orphans, and
widows; then the Lord your God will bless and prosper all you do. When you beat the olives
from your olive trees, don't go over the boughs twice; leave anything remaining for the
migrants, orphans, and widows. It is the same for the grapes in your vineyard; don't glean
the vines after they are picked, but leave what's left for those in need" (Deut.
Also read: Lev. 23:22; 25:2-7.
Israel gave to the poor and included them in special events.
"The Festival of Weeks ... is a time to rejoice before the
Lord ... And don't forget to include the local Levites, foreigners, widows, and orphans.
Invite them to accompany you to the celebration at the sanctuary.
"Every third year ... you are to give all your tithes to the Levites, migrants,
orphans and widows, so that they will be well fed" (Deut. 26:12).
Also read: Deut. 12:12; 12:19; 14:27-29; 16:9-14; 26:1-3; 26:11,13.
How do groups like the Bibles "immigrants, orphans and
widows" fare today?
For many, not well.
Widows and senior citizens? Many feel in desperation that they
cant "make it." Their incomes are fixed and low; but their expenses
arent. A swimming-pool salesman whod worked in a grocery store told me he
changed jobs "because I saw all these senior citizens buying canned cat food. I knew
many of them personally, and knew they didnt have cats. Cat food was the only meat
they could afford."
In the US, the June-July 2012 AARP: The Magazine said that 1 in 4
seniors (over 50) "struggle to afford housing, food, prescription drugs and other
Immigrants? Even the "land of opportunity," the US (itself a
nation of immigrants) doesnt do well. In a 2009 study, 40% of immigrants had wages
stolen by employers. One lady was jailed for merely asking for her pay. Others had savings
stolen by police at traffic stops. 77% of women immigrants said their bosses sexually
harassed them. Some rapists werent arrested because the victims were immigrants.
In August 2012 AP Special Correspondent Helen ONeill reported
that in the first half of that year the US deported 45,000 parents of American-citizen
children ("born in the USA") and forced the children to stay behind,
permanently splitting the families. ONeill says that "behind the statistics are
the stories: a crying baby taken from her mothers arms and handed to social workers
as the mother is handcuffed and taken away, her parental rights terminated by a US judge;
teenage children watching as parents are dragged from the family home; immigrant parents
disappearing into a maze-like detention system where they are routinely locked up hundreds
of miles from their homes, separated from their families for months and denied contact
with the welfare agencies deciding their childrens fate."
"Immigration lawyers say that - despite policy changes they
see families destroyed every day ."
Single mothers? Most earn too little. Their "exes" often fail
to pay child support. Several we knew worked two jobs, but still couldnt take their
kids to a doctor. And the mothers long hours meant their children were home alone,
where they easily got into trouble. Others, facing eviction with their children because
their jobs didnt cover rent, took in boyfriends who then abused the kids.
Women? Officially, one in every three to four are victims of domestic violence. Many
believe the figures higher. Sexual assault crimes are dramatically underreported.
"Vanished," by mystery writer Tess Garritsen, claims that each year
over 50,000 young US women and children are trafficked into sexual slavery.
Siddharth Karas powerful book "Sex Trafficking; Inside the Business of
Modern Slavery" says that at least 1,200,000 women worldwide, mostly teenagers,
are trafficked into prostitution each year. And thats conservative.
Trafficking is most widespread in South Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, followed in
turn by Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East,
Africa, and North America. During the Bosnian Wars in the 1990s, the International
Police Task Force (IPTF) and US contractor Dyncorp were accused of being major providers
of trafficked women (Kara, p. 144).
Kara explains that women become unwilling sex slaves in five primary ways (pp. 7-9):
1. Deceit, such as the false offer of a job, travel, or
2. Sale by the victims family, usually forced by extreme poverty.
One of our personal friends knows a teen-aged orphan who was sex-trafficked by her
grandmother, but was among the fortunate few who escape.
In a poor part of one country, being a "good daughter" means
a girl is expected to enter prostitution to help support her family financially. And the
daughters accept that.
4. Seduction or romance, coupled with persuading the girl to
"migrate to a rich country." Shes sent ahead, but a slave trader or
brothel owner meets her.
5. Recruitment by former sex slaves who became allies of the slave
Becoming a sex slave is the last thing most women want. They resist. To
break their wills they are drugged; gang-raped; starved; beaten; or tortured by breaking
bones, pulling fingernails or teeth, or burning with cigarettes. Theyre humiliated
in ways like being denied bathrooms until theyve clearly had accidents. Some yield
to very real threats to harm their families. And some who still refuse or try to escape
are murdered, often in front of their group.
Life is an unending nightmare they did nothing to deserve. Many become
pregnant and are forced to endure painful abortions. If allowed to give birth, their child
is often sold into slavery or prostitution. Nearly all get STDs and/or HIV. Their
life span is unknown, but one source told Kara that few live beyond their mid-thirties.
Orphans? Far too many also become victims of sex trafficking. UNICEF says as many as
2,000,000 children worldwide, a higher figure than Karas, are trafficked into
Anne Jackson saw it first-hand during a trip to Moldova and Russia with
Childrens Hope Chest. There, many orphanages cant care for childen until
theyre old enough to live safely on their own. In Moldova they must leave at 15.
Theyre given money, but not enough to rent a room for a month. They easily fall prey
One morning Annes guide took her group to a pleasant restaurant
in an attractive neighborhood, then told them "this cafe is the main hub for girls
that are trafficked out of Moldova!"
Orphans and girls who have finished 9th grade must find
work. But jobs are scarce. The foreigners who own that cafe hire the girls. They are
"guaranteed" promotions or transfers to other restaurants. Instead, the girls
are drugged, kidnapped, and smuggled to other countries with their identity papers changed
and put to work as prostitutes.
Others are lured through false ads for apartments or "real"
jobs. The "interview" is just a chance to kidnap the girls and often
Anne says "Most of these orphans end up kidnapped and working in
other countries, making pennies a day for sexual services ... Not knowing how to escape,
being violated and told theyre worthless, and that nobody cares, they see no hope
no reason to escape. Some commit suicide ... Moldova is a small country, and 30,000
women and children disappear every year without a trace."
She concludes "This is a subject we must ... stare in the face and
say ... this can not happen ... if we know about it ... were responsible to do
something about it." (Annes former blog, Flowerdust.net, April 6-13, 2010).
Can we, as Christians, say were "loving Jesus" when we let such things
What can we do? Kara suggests five steps individuals can take (pp. 43-44):
- Raise awareness. For example, share his book with others.
- Support an anti-trafficking non-profit organization financially.
- Dont wait for problems to appear where you live. Start a community vigilance
committee. See Twitter.com@siddharthkara
for an instruction packet.
- Write letters to your national congressman and senators.
- Use social media. Create a short video, a blog, or a full-length documentary.
Should we allow children to stay in orphanages longer? Build dormitories and start
businesses to provide older children with safe places to live and work? Develop links with
colleges and universities for their education?
One organization with a long-range plan for that kind of action is Beautiful Feet
Global Outreach, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Led by Melissa Irwin, BFGO
supports orphans in Zimbabwe, and hopes to expand. They admit their plan will take time
and money. But theyre committed to it.
Other children? according to the Family Justice Center Alliance,
10,000,000 suffer domestic violence every year in the US alone.
Often there are too few foster homes and too little money to run them
well. These kids need people wholl invest time and love.
In one neighborhood we felt that meant us. We began with three kids
(who grew to around a dozen), and gave them all the time, love, and self-worth we could.
We took pictures and made photo albums for them. We gave some of them Bibles, plus players
with worship CDs.
On one boys birthday, our daughter promised him a brownie if
hed stop by after school. He did and brought seven friends!
We fixed pancake breakfasts and taught some of the kids to say grace.
One four-year-old girls first prayer was "Jesus, thank you for eating."
One week, when we were sick and couldnt fix breakfasts, one boy
looked especially disappointed. We asked how many usually got breakfast. Of the nine there
that day, one got a school breakfast, but four got nothing unless we fed them!
Some came to our evening family devotions (prayer and worship music).
One girl especially loved dancing to the gospel choruses. And one boy sang "Our God
is an Awesome God" at the top of his lungs at the school bus stop!
Just before Christmas we held a party. Thirteen kids came, plus four
parents. Our decorations included a banner that read "Happy Birthday, Jesus!"
Two of the kids asked us, in all seriousness, "Whos Jesus?"
On one special occasion we saw "a little child lead them." We taught
6-year-old Katie the song "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know." She loved
it! She turned to our 30-year-old son and said "Lets go sing that to
everybody!" Normally outgoing, Bill was suddenly shy and embarrassed. He protested
"But I dont know those people!" Katie replied: "Itll be OK,
Bill. Youll see. Come on." So they walked through the neighborhood, knocking on
doors. When people answered, Katie told them "We have a song for you!" And the
whole neighborhood was serenaded with "Jesus Loves Me!"
What are some blessings and curses the Bible promised those who did or
didnt "love" immigrants, orphans and widows?
If they did? "Then the Lord your God will bless and
prosper all you do" (Deut. 24: 19).
God pledged to deliver Israel, give kings to sit on Davids
throne, and bring prosperity if the nation would "Be fair-minded. Do what is
right! Help those in need of justice! ... Protect the rights of aliens and immigrants,
orphans and widows" (Jer. 22:3-4; also read Isa. 15:3-5).
And if not? "They refuse justice to orphans and the rights
of the poor. Should I sit back and act as if nothing is going on? The Lord God
asks. "Shouldnt I punish a nation such as this? (Jer. 5:26-29.)
More Scriptures: Ex. 22:22-24; Deut. 27:19; Job 6:25-27; 22:4-6;
22:9-11; 24:20-21; 31:16-17; 31:21-23; Ps. 94:4-7; Isa. 1:16-17; 1:23-27; Jer. 5:26-29;
7:3-7; 22:3-5; Ezek. 22:2; 22:7-9; 22:13-16; 22:30-31; Mic. 2:9-10; Zech. 7:8-14; Mal.
3:5; Mark 12:28-40.
Jesus said: "When you did it to these ... you were doing it to
me" (Matt. 25:40).